13/07/2004

Ardoyne riot provokes controversy over Parades Commission

Serious disturbances in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast yesterday have left 25 police officers injured and politicians calling into question the role and effectiveness of the Parades Commission.

The disturbances followed a return Orange Lodge parade past shops in the pre-dominantly nationalist Ardoyne. Army personnel were also injured during the rioting, and a water cannon was eventually used to disperse the crowd.

Controversially, the PSNI allowed parade followers to move past the area some time after the parade itself, despite a Parades Commission ruling that only the Lodges themselves should be allowed past.

Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast Gerry Kelly maintains that the actions of the PSNI have effectively rendered the Parades Commission defunct.

Mr Kelly said: "Tonight the PSNI with the support of the British government forced both the Orange Order and senior UDA members through nationalist north Belfast. This was in direct breach of the Parades Commission determination. It has put the parading issue back years as it has effectively handed control of contentious parades back into the hands of the PSNI.

"Having forced the parade through Ardoyne, the PSNI along with the paratroop regiment, then attacked local people. A number of people including myself who were trying to maintain calm were attacked and assaulted by baton wielding PSNI thugs. No action was taken to move on the loyalist crowd or respond to attacks on the Ardoyne community from Twaddell Avenue.

"I have spoken this evening to [NIO Minister] Ian Pearson by telephone and I informed him that he along with the PSNI ultimately has to bear the responsibility for what happened in Ardoyne this evening. Those of us still on the ground will continue to do our best to maintain calm but I have to say that the anger within the nationalist community in north Belfast this evening is palpable."

Police maintain that they acted fully within the law and with a view to protecting the human rights of both communities, and have, despite the violence, praised the work of community leaders in making this year’s Twelfth comparatively peaceful.

Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland said: "A lot of work was undertaken by representatives of local groups and communities on the ground before today's parades. Quite clearly much of that work has paid dividends.

"The parades and protests in the main have been orderly, peaceful and well marshalled.

"We attended an incident in north Belfast, after the parade had passed the Ardoyne shopfronts, when youths attacked police and military vehicles with missiles. Police responded appropriately and proportionally. I am appealing for calm in the area and would appeal to all community representatives to continue to use their influence to bring this about.”

Reiterating the PSNI position that such disputes must be solved by communities rather police, ACC McClausland added: "This incident demonstrates that there is no policing solution to such issues. Communities need to engage in dialogue to come up with acceptable solutions and prevent such scenes from occurring again.

"That all other parades and protests have so far been peaceful is a reflection of the great efforts made by members of both communities to reduce tension and maintain calm.

"We believe the overall police operation involving all parades today has been a success. It was planned on the basis of widespread engagement with interested bodies and individuals in communities across Belfast and beyond.

“Any physical measures employed were not kept in place for a minute longer than was necessary.

"As we go forward from today it is incumbent on all groups and communities to redouble their efforts to engage in dialogue to resolve the underlying issues."

(GB)


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